Do Dogs Have Bad Dreams?

As any dog owner will know, we dogs love our naptime. It’s actually estimated we spend between 12 and 14 hours of our day asleep, and puppies can sleep for up to 19!

You might hear us making noises, or even see us moving during nap time. Some of us even sleep talk (or bark to you I guess) – sometimes loud enough to startle us awake!

I’m sure all of you humans want to know what goes on inside our minds, so I’m here to spill the beans.

Like humans, dogs can have both good and bad dreams.

golden retriever toy


Sleep Cycles

There are 2 main sleep stages – REM and SWS. REM stands for rapid eye movement and is a deep phase of sleep.

It is estimated that about 10% of naptime for dogs is made of this part of the sleep cycle. REM is where dreaming occurs. SWS stands for slow wave sleep and makes up the other 90% of our sleeping time.

Whereas humans have 90 minute sleep cycles (including REM and SWS) about 4-5 times per night, dogs differ. We have cycles that last about 15 minutes, but they repeat around 20 times over the course of one night.

Generally speaking, you will see us entering our first phase of REM sleep about 20 minutes into a nap. It will probably last about 2 to 3 minutes.

You can tell we have entered this sleep phase as our breathing will be more irregular and our eyes will move a lot more.

What is the pons?

The pons is a part of the brainstem that controls the levels of paralysis while animals are sleeping. It sends electrical signals to the muscles in the body and tells them to relax and remain motionless while dreaming.

A researcher called Michel Jouvet discovered that if he disabled the pons in cats, they would begin to act out their dreams. This theory has been built upon and many researchers have attempted the same experiment on a variety of dog breeds.

These studies showed similar results to the ones conducted on cats. Whatever the dog’s favorite activity while waking was carried out while they were sleeping too.

Age and Breed

Smaller dogs have been found to have more dreams than big dogs. As a Great Dane, I’m not saying it’s because their brains are smaller, but the science is undeniable.

Dogs that are very young and also very old may experience more dreams than ones in the prime of their life. This is because the pons takes a little while to develop so it may not be fully formed until we are a year or two old.

As we get older, the pons becomes less efficient and this is why older dogs may dream more too. This is why you may see old and young dogs moving around a lot while they’re sleeping.

Can we have bad dreams?

Unfortunately, yes we can. As long as there’s good in the world there will be bad too. You might notice us crying, growling, or snarling in our sleep.

These are usually pretty good signs that we are having a bad dream. Whatever you do, don’t wake us up from it.

If you wake up a dog in the middle of a nightmare, we will probably be very confused and may lash out at you.

We won’t realize where we are to begin with, and we might hurt you before it clicks. As the old saying goes, let sleeping dogs lie.

As far as humans know, we dogs don’t have the ability to create nightmarish scenarios. This means that when we’re having a bad dream we’re remembering something that actually happened to us. This means that the dreams are twice as traumatic and are likely to affect us a lot.

What can you do to make us feel safer?

If your dog is having a lot of nightmares, there are a few things you can do to make them feel safer. You could consider placing some of your old clothes in the bed with them. We love smelling you, it makes us feel safe, protected, and loved.

You could also try making the bed more comfortable and cozy. If your dog has joint issues, memory foam beds are a great idea. Place lots of soft and warm items in the bed with us – like humans and soft toys, they will comfort us.

Like with humans that struggle with sleep, a good routine is vital. Try to keep a regular schedule of walks, meal times, play time, etc. We may seem easygoing, but we love structure deep down.

Try to give us a good amount of exercise each day. This will help to tire us out and get rid of all that excess energy that we have.

This exercise also allows us to run off any stress that might be playing on our minds. The less stressed we are, the less chance of us having scary nightmares.

You could also play some calming music to us, or even softly talk to us. Soothing tones will always help, but again please do not wake us up to chat.

You could also consider purchasing a pressure wrap for your dog. This is kind of like a compression jacket that you put on us. It looks snazzy and it feels like a hug!

You can also purchase something known as DAP (dog appeasing pheromone) products. These release pheromones into the air that remind us of our mothers when they were nursing.

These come in loads of different forms, from plug-ins to collars. Try a few and see which your dog prefers. Research has also shown that these products are useful during thunderstorms and fireworks.

If your dog is having a lot of nightmares and you are worried about them, we would recommend contacting a veterinarian. They will be able to check your furry friend over for any medical or health issues that could be causing trauma.